April 16th, 2011

Top 10 Games of the Last Decade: #8 Beyond Good And Evil

The nerdiest Brit, James Hayward, continues his in depth series of the best games of the last decade with:

Number 8: Beyond Good and Evil

Platform: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Nintendo GameCube,
(As of March 2nd 2011 – Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network)
Year of release: 2003
Genre: Action Adventure
Theme: Sci-Fi / Fantasy
System Requirements: 700Mhz/ 128MB RAM/ 2.2 GB Disk Space / 32 MB Video Card
Where to buy:

Beyond Good and Evil is one of those peculiar titles that had cross platform critical success yet still managed to bomb commercially on every single one it was released to. It’s hard to say for sure why that was… perhaps the game looked a little too artsy or bizarre for some gamers? More likely it failed to capture the interest of those who just weren’t sure what kind of game it was that they were being asked to buy.

Perhaps some of the confusion about the game was understandable when one considers it contains sci-fi elements like (robots, space ships and force fields) while also leaning heavily on a fantasy elements (talking bi-pedal sharks, cats and pigs). And while the game has both in some degree, it is also neither a straight forward shooter nor is it a shallow hack n’slash experience. There are some minor opportunities for improving the main character’s (Jade), stats and equipment but this is definitely not an RPG in the accepted sense of the genre. In fact, it is probably easiest to say that ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ is best compared to Zelda, both in game play and structural terms. BGE’s hub and dungeon world structure, emotional storytelling and focused plot are all reminiscent of a Zelda experience (while also just managing to stop short of being obviously derivative). Beyond good and Evil is, on the face of it, an open world game but make no mistake, the Elder Scrolls with robots this is not. Objectives are always clear and limited in number, leading to a highly concentrated story experience.

Deviation from objectives is rarely prevented and there is usually a chance to get out and explore the varied and colourful world of Hillis. This kind of exploration often rewards the gamer with wildlife photography opportunities (Jade is a photographer by trade) and with each successful species photographed and catalogued, Jade will receive experience and pearls that are useable as part of the upgrade system for weapons and health. The pearls themselves can also be purchased or found in some of the BGE’s more obscure or hard to reach locations. As a mechanic this is all surprisingly rewarding and enjoyable while also never being necessary to advance the game.

The combat in Beyond Good and Evil usually requires some small amount of planning as Jade is no match for many of the game’s enemies in a head to head fight. Luckily there are large sections of the game where Jade will be accompanied by companions whose strengths complement Jade’s weaknesses. Non player character interaction is also required for some of the game’s above-average environmental puzzles. The script and voice acting for these companion interactions, and indeed for the whole game, is definitely well above par and filled with equal measure of kitsch and genuine emotive moments.

In fact, I think that although many have called BGE a ‘cult classic’, this does the game down somewhat because the term conjures up ideas that the commercial failure of BGE must have been due to design shortcomings, bugs or perhaps an inaccessible story. In truth, BGE suffers from none of these failings and is far superior in many ways to most ‘current gen’ games. In short, this is absolutely worth a look if you are one of the many that missed it the first time around.

(For those among you who get itchy about the idea of playing graphically-inferior older games, fear not because a re-mastered, high definition version of BGE was released to both Xbox Live and the Play Station Network on March 2nd.)

-James Hayward

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